Rogers Place in Edmonton, Alberta during the 2020 NHL Playoffs. (Courtesy: Dave Sandford)

We have suddenly entered the cooler, crisp days of September minus a Labour Day Classic. The CFL is at best three weather seasons away, but there is plenty of NHL hockey.

“The Twilight Zones” Rod Serling couldn’t have come up with fiction like this. To that end we offer the best and worst of NHL playoff hockey.

Let’s start with the worst and get it over with.

First off, I believe in physical, hard-hitting hockey, played within the rules. But, get ready for NHL refs to limber up their throwing arms.

They will hurl away their whistles as mandated by NHL owners. The owners don’t want playoff games decided by penalty calls, particularly in the last two rounds.

That means that the seasonal sport of hockey rugby will return and the club that can best resemble the New Zealand All Blacks will have a decided advantage. The only thing missing will be the Haka.

Hacking and whacking doesn’t work in golf but it can in playoff hockey.

Don’t blame the referees for ignoring blatant infractions, after all, they are just following the bosses order, like any good employee. They see it, but can’t call it.

So far several obvious penalty shots have not been called which is of no surprise.

Boston forward Nick Ritchie dropped his gloves, alone, and pounded on a prone Tampa player. The refs watched intently. They studied the punches. Was that an undercut? Jab?

Ritchie did not receive five minutes for fighting. So, what exactly was he doing? Playing badminton?

This is exactly why my wife won’t watch hockey.

The NHL is the only pro sports league in the world that changes how infractions are called depending on game importance.

The NFL, CFL, MLB, EPL and NBA call the game to the rule book regardless of importance. This maximizes consistency so players and coaches know what to expect.

So, the NHL is right and everybody else is wrong?

Do plate umpires change the strike zones in the World Series?

How about the worst decision by an NHL owner?

My pick would be Ted Leonsis of the Washington Capitals.

After winning the Stanley Cup in 2018, Leonsis refused to reward his underpaid coach Barry Trotz.

The rest is history. The Caps have been dreadful in the playoffs since and were recently eliminated by the former Regina Pat Trotz and his Islanders.

Leonsis replaced Trotz with a cheaper Todd Reirden who was fired on Aug. 23.

If you want to go to the NHL team President level, how about Brendan Shanahan of the Toronto Maple Leafs?

Shanahan picks his current GM Kyle Dubas over Hall of Famer Lou Lamoriello. Lou heads to the Islanders, a team with a lot of hockey left to play.

The Leafs have been golfing since Aug. 9.

The Leafs are paying William Nylander and others more money than Brayden Point earns in Tampa.

The former Moose Jaw Warrior is one of the best forwards in the playoffs as he heads to the Eastern Final.

The worst move by a coach, that I’ve seen so far, was by the Bruins Bruce Cassidy. In Game 4 versus Tampa, with Boston trailing 2-0, Nick Ritchie took a nasty boarding major.

The result was a Lightning power play goal. The subsequent 3-0 lead was insurmountable against a tight checking Lightning.

The between period TV commentary was unanimous that Ritchie should be benched. He wasn’t.

Nice message to the other Bruin players who are busting their butts.

Cassidy, who in fairness is a very good coach, did bench Ritchie Monday night and the Bruins played much better in a game that could have gone either way,

One of the largest playoff disappointments was obviously the Edmonton Oilers, despite having the best player in the world. One of the best fan bases in the NHL let down yet again. This is a recording.

Worst luck goes to the Winnipeg Jets who suffered so many injuries against Calgary. The Jets Stanley Cup window however has now closed.

Now let’s go to the best of the NHL playoffs.

The strongest between period commentators are David Amber, Brian Burke, Kevin Bieksa, and Kelly Hrudy.

Amber and Burke have a great segment together.

Ron MacLean is a legend but Amber is clearly the stronger host.

There has been some great coaching so far. The one bench boss you wouldn’t think of initially is Rick Bowness of the Dallas Stars. Rick is only the interim head coach and is doing a fabulous job despite a tough Game 5 Monday.

Why do we underestimate the Stars? This is a team that went to a seventh game, double overtime, against the eventual champ St. Louis Blues a season ago.

After a terrible regular season a positive surprise in the playoffs was the Montreal Canadiens. Sort of.

Just how bad are the Penguins, the squad who lost to the Habs? Sid the Kid is not a kid anymore and can’t do it all by himself.

What should Crosby’s new nickname be?

I thought of Sid the Adult but I’m not super confident that will stick. 

Sorry, I’m supposed to be positive in this segment.

The Vancouver Canucks are Canada’s best team.

Unsung hero award goes to Bruins captain Zdeno Chara, who leads his team at the age of 43. Chara is the best hockey leader in this current era.

There is no doubt as to who has been the best goalie of the playoffs, that goes to Jacob Markstrom of Vancouver.

Honorable mention to the Knights Robin Lehner.

The NHL should be congratulated for the effectiveness of their playoff bubble.

On Monday there were no COVID-19 cases reported once again.

The League dressed up the rinks beautifully for the playoffs, much like they did for the Heritage Classic in Regina. The NHL does these sorts of things in a first class manner.

That’s it but I’d much rather be writing a Roughrider column.

I want to call Coach Craig, Coach Craig, again.

Don Hewitt first started covering the Saskatchewan Roughriders for CKCK-TV in 1979.